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Helping Veterans Avoid Scams

U.S. Postal Inspection Service, AARP and Veterans Affairs Privacy Service have joined forces to help veterans avoid being scammed of their money, their identity or their benefits.

Operation Protect Veterans works to educate our nation’s veterans from scams that are specifically targeting them.

“According to a recent AARP survey, veterans are twice as likely to unknowingly participate in a scam as compared to the general population,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Carroll Harris in a hearing before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging. “The survey also found that the vast majority of veterans encounter scams that have been tailored just to them ̶ Operation Protect Veterans seeks to prevent scams through education.”

The U.S. Postal Inspection Service is the law enforcement and crime prevention arm of the U.S. Postal Service.

Veterans may be more vulnerable to scammers that claim to be members or former members of the military or to the claim that the caller is a representative of a government agency or veteran support group. Because of their military experiences, veterans may find it more difficult to recognize and resist
the emotional manipulation used by scammers.

Through its website at uspis.gov/veterans, Operation Protect Veterans teaches veterans to recognize scams and offers information to help veterans protect themselves and their personal information. The program also encourages reporting of scam attempts, regardless of whether or not the scam was
successful. Veterans can report scam attempts by calling 877-908-3360 or online at AARP.org/fraudwatchnetwork or uspis.gov/report.

The program offers the following tips to help veterans protect themselves and their loved ones from scams:

  • Don’t give personal information over the phone. This includes bank account numbers, credit card numbers or social security numbers.
  • Don’t send money or gift cards to anyone you don’t know well.
  • Don’t feel pressured to act immediately. Legitimate organizations won’t try to pressure you to act before you have a chance to research and think about it. If an organization calls and pushes hard for the information or money, just say no and hang up.
  • Consult a friend or your local Veterans Affairs office before acting.
  • Verify any charity asking for money before sending a donation. Online services such as Better Business Bureau, Charity Navigator, CharityWatch and Guide Star can help determine whether or not a charity is legitimate.
  • Do your homework and get credible information on how to qualify for veterans’ benefits by contacting your state Veterans Affairs agency online at www.nasdva.us.



USPIS reports that by far the most common scam targeting veterans across the United States are credit card scams which use robocalls to promise lower credit interest rates. Other common types of scams include charity scams, phishing scams, tech support scams and loan scams including the following
specifically targeted scams:

  • Fake Charitable Giving Request Scams. Scammers solicit donations and make fraudulent claims about charities benefiting wounded service members.
  • IRS Tax Scam. An imposter calls or leaves a message that they work for the IRS and that the veteran owes them money.
  • “Secret” Veteran Benefits Scam. Veterans are told they qualify for secret government programs or benefits worth thousands of dollars but first the veteran must provide personal information or a fee.
  • Benefits Buyout Offer. Scammers offer a quick upfront buyout of future disability or pension payments, usually at a fraction of the value of the benefit.
  • VA Loan Scam. Veterans are offered the opportunity to refinance VA loans at extremely low rates.
  • VA Phishing Scam. Imposters pose as Veterans Affairs employees to get access to personal information.
  • Update Your File Scam. Scammers pose as government agency representatives asking for a veteran’s personal information to “update their file, so that the veteran can maintain their benefits.”
  • Veterans Choice Program Scam. A phone number nearly identical to the number veterans dial to determine if they are eligible to use approved health care providers outside of the Veterans Affairs system is set up by scammers. When veterans call the fake number, a message prompts them to leave their credit card information in return for a rebate. The correct number for the VCP is 866-606-8198.
  • Fraudulent Records Offer. Scam artists try to charge veterans a fee to access military records or government forms. This information is free through the National Archives (for military records) and VA.gov for local Veterans Affairs offices (for forms).
  • Bogus Employment Scam. Scammers post fake job descriptions to collect personal information from a veteran’s job application or the scammer charges an employment fee.
  • Aid and Attendance Scam. Veterans or their family members receive an offer to move their assets into a living trust so that they can qualify for financial assisted-living benefits.
  • GI Bill Education Marketing Scam. Scammers use deceptive marketing tactics and provide false information to push expensive for-profit educational institutions to veterans seeking to take advantage of the GI Bill for college courses. Veterans Affairs offers an online comparison tool at vets.gov/education/gi-bill to help veterans locate a school and determine their benefits.
  • Special Deals for Veterans Scam. Offers of special discounts for veterans on a range of products such as loans and car purchases. The products are not discounted at all or they don’t exist.
  • Rental Scam. A scammer posts a fake rental property on a classified ad website offering discounts for active-duty military and veterans. Once they receive a security deposit, it is discovered that there is no rental property.
  • Romance/Catfishing Scams. Scammers steal a veteran’s photo and creates a phony profile on a dating site to catfish singles looking for love.

The partnership also supports the VA’s More Than a Number campaign, an identity protection program that provides information to educate veterans on protecting themselves from identity theft. Veterans who want more information or suspect their identities may have been compromised can call the VA
Identity Theft Help Line Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Eastern at 855-578-5492.

Providing Veterans Someone to Talk to

Nearly a year after making the switch from in-home visits to a robust virtual engagement program for veterans, Department of Veterans Affairs Compassionate Contact Corps has gone national.

Compassionate Contact Corps is a volunteer-driven program providing constructive engagement while keeping the veteran and the volunteers safely socially distanced, said Cathi Starr, voluntary service specialist with the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System.

“It’s not all about telling war stories, it’s meeting the veteran where they need to be met,” Starr said.  “A lot of people figured out the isolation that is occurring (due to the pandemic) is real and we needed to find a fix or something to help."

The program allows physicians, chaplains, nurses and social workers to pair volunteers with veterans of any age who are experiencing loneliness, are at risk for social isolation or could benefit from a companion. Veterans interested in participating require a referral by a VA clinician.

Starr’s program in Tucson currently serves 62 veterans from ages 30 to 98, along with 55 volunteers.

“The program provides a consistent weekly check the veteran can count on,” Starr said. “Right now we have a 98-year-old veteran with visual impairments and hearing impairment that couldn’t do phone calls, so I have her receiving services in the program by email – they’re communicating back and forth on a regular basis by email because she can make the text large on the phone and be able to read it.

“One of our veterans in his 40s has a traumatic brain injury. Before the pandemic, the volunteer would go to his home and play video games and sometimes they’d go outside and shoot hoops. Now they’re meeting virtually in a game room or playing against each other from their own homes and still communicate while they’re playing.”

Veterans and volunteers are matched based on common interests.

“It’s the personal touch of matching people up that I find is a challenge I enjoy very much,” Starr said. “I love the ones where it’s meant to happen. For example, this week I started telling (the volunteer) about the veteran and there were just coincidental things that matched up perfectly. It was just so awesome that it happens that way that I do feel like there’s a higher power kind of assisting me in my process.”

Based on their weekly engagement, trained volunteers can identify if their veteran is behaving in a way that isn’t normal for them, triggering a check by the VA health care team.

“Our volunteers offer early intervention,” Starr said. “We say they’re a set of eyes and ears for the VA and they detect minor changes before it becomes a big issue.”

The program has expanded to more than 50 VA facilities across the country and last week the VA partnered with the American Red Cross to boost volunteer recruitment for the program.

"We regard VA’s Compassionate Contact Corps as a best practice and signature program," said American Red Cross Senior Vice President Koby Langley in a release. "It directly aligns with our organization’s mission and the expertise of its cadres across a vast nationwide network of volunteers to prevent and alleviate human suffering whenever possible."

Interested volunteers can find available opportunities at their local VA or at the American Red Cross. 

“It doesn’t matter where the volunteer is,” Starr said. “They can connect with a veteran anywhere there is a phone line or some other means of communication. We even have a couple of volunteers that are doing greeting cards and short notes for veterans – so we go from pencil and paper all the way up to video chats and anywhere in-between.”

An Air Force law enforcement veteran, Starr’s work in developing and implementing a Compassionate Contact Corps was recently recognized by the secretary of the Veterans Administration with an I CARE award.

“I don’t know which is better working with all the awesome people who have huge hearts and don’t care about getting paid or if it’s working – because I’ve always enjoyed connecting with other veterans – with the veterans themselves,” Starr said. “Getting them engaged and seeing that engagement is probably the most rewarding part of it.”

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.